You dance, the festival dances

Leah Mercer

Being nothing and everything Told via her clown-dag persona, Donna Carstens’ Thirty Years In a Suitcase is a litany of the trials of growing up as a girl who looks like a boy in the straight world of Brisbane suburbia circa 1980s. This one-woman show is about “not being black, not being white, not being gay, being forgotten, being remembered, not being funny, being nothing and becoming everything you ever wanted to be.” It is ultimately a feel-good story and Carstens knows how to charm an audience and keep them on her side.

In 2000 Carstens received a Lord Mayor’s Fellowship Grant from the Brisbane City Council and made her first international trip to study with several international artists (at the Del’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in San Francisco and festivals in Geneva and Frankfurt). This travel provides the light frame upon which she places her autobiographical story told as a series of flashbacks. Combining family snapshots, shadow puppets, juggling, the strategic use of music (including an unforgettable performance of Desperado on ukulele), Thirty Years In a Suitcase unfolds through a series of narrated stories and Carsten’s interaction with several suitcases that take on different roles.

The show doesn’t shy from the bleaker side of her life including Carsten’s initial estrangement from her mother after coming out, the domestic violence that shaped her mother’s childhood and the revelation that her grandmother, who was jailed for murder, was one of the Stolen Generation. Helped by its hometown audience whose recognition of local places helps to win them over, Carstens’ style of storytelling is direct and heartfelt.

Thirty Years In A Suitcase, Donna Carstens with Metro Arts, co-director/sound Tamsin McGuin, puppeteer Lynne Kent, lighting Veronica Joyce, projection Amanda King, audio Guy Webster, Brisbane, Aug 27-Sep 6

The project was part of MetroArts' The Independents program supporting emerging and fringe artists.

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 47

© Leah Mercer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2003
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